How the Cubs can start to get back on their fans’ good side

A few suggestions for a franchise that seems to have gone out of the way to alienate its fan base.

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Then-vice president Joe Biden throws out the first pitch on Opening Day at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 2009.

Then-vice president Joe Biden throws out the first pitch on Opening Day at Camden Yards in Baltimore in 2009.

Gail Burton/AP

It’s fair to say that the Cubs are not currently in their fans’ good graces. The team probably has surveys and pie charts to tell me I’m wrong, but all the emails and social-media posts I’ve seen seem to suggest that, if the franchise’s decision-makers were to suddenly lose engine power during a trans-Atlantic yacht trip, it would be quite OK with Cubs fans. As would the yacht’s radio system failing.

There are various reasons for the ill will. The dynasty that was predicted after the team won the 2016 World Series never materialized. The Cubs didn’t spend money on free agents last offseason and appear on the way to considering a competitive “timeout’’ down the road. They traded ace Yu Darvish in a luxury tax salary dump this offseason, a terrible betrayal by a major-market franchise. Team president Theo Epstein, who guided the organization through a painful rebuild to a championship, walked away this offseason. The team parted company with popular manager Joe Maddon after the 2019 season.

The Ricketts family, which owns the franchise, too often seems more interested in creating new revenue streams than in creating a winner. The Cubs’ TV network, unveiled in 2020, continues to hack off fans by its very, money-grubbing existence.

Finally, and perhaps most damaging, many of the Rickettses are vocal, involved, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives during a time when politics in this country are incredibly painful and divisive. To many fans who lean left, the only thing remotely blue about the Cubs are the uniforms. I know more than a few who have switched allegiance to the crosstown White Sox for this very reason.

Those are a lot of issues to confront for an organization still trying to sell fun at the old ballpark — whenever Wrigley Field gates open during the pandemic.

So what can the Cubs do to get back on the good side of their fans? I have some suggestions.

Invite President Joe Biden to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

This would let Cubs fans know that the team understands it has a serious image problem, that it respects different opinions and that it’s trying to distance itself from patriarch Joe Ricketts’ more virulent, far-right, “Muslims are naturally my enemy’’ views.

Biden, a Democrat, could throw out the first pitch for the Cubs’ 1:20 p.m. opener at Wrigley on April 1, then be back in Washington to do the same for the Nationals’ opener that night.

As vice president, he threw out the first pitch for the Orioles on Opening Day in 2009, getting reasonably close to backup catcher Chad Moeller’s target. As a pitcher, Biden is an avowed righty.

If this idea infuriates the Republican Cubs fans out there, don’t make me unveil Plan B, should Biden be unavailable: U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez throwing to Joe Ricketts.

Show 2021 games for free on Marquee Sports Network.

Insanity, right? Bad business. An MBA’s nightmare. But when the Cubs cry about all the cuts they’ve had to make because of COVID-19, they don’t seem to understand how brutal the virus has been for the millions of non-Cubs employees who have lost jobs because of the pandemic. What a patriotic gesture it would be if they gave struggling fans a chance to watch all the games on TV for free this season.

Make team chairman Tom Ricketts sit atop a dunk tank at Wrigley every time he gets the urge to say, “We have no money.’’

Nobody wants to hear that the owner of a baseball team in the third-largest TV market in the country is out of money. One, because it’s not true and, two, because there should be a law that if you want to be the big-boy owner of a legacy team you have to spend big-boy money.

Let the dunk tank be filled with year-old milk. And let fans throw the balls at the target.

Keep Javy Baez.

Everybody’s a genius now because of analytics, and there’s less room for loyalty than ever in sports. But how about throwing one bone to the fan base and declaring to the baseball world that Baez is going to stay a Cub for a long time? Yes, he is coming off a down year, but the shortstop remains one of the most exciting players in the game. Give him a contract extension.

Many Cubs fans feel like something is slipping away, and even though they know they don’t have any control over what their team does in personnel matters, letting them believe they’ve been heard just once would go a long way toward repairing a fractured relationship.

Let kids into Wrigley for free when it opens again.

OK, not all kids. We don’t want the ballpark to turn into a daycare center. How about this: When spectators are allowed to return to Wrigley, one fan 13 and under per adult gets in free.

This addresses both the franchise’s reputation as being only money-driven and Major League Baseball’s problem attracting young fans. It would be a win-win for a team that doesn’t figure to be flying the “W’’ flag as often as fans would want in 2021.

 


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